Shawna Longo | November 2018

Creating a Case for Creativity

Have you been noticing a change in the mindset within your school or district? There is a shift away from a test-focused classroom toward a more creative, student-centered classroom occurring in education. In some places, it’s happening more quickly than others, but it’s all still moving in the same direction. In the past, school was thought of as a place of certainty. As Seth Godin discusses in his book, The Icarus Deception “the Industrial Age taught us that there are answers and that you need the answers in order to succeed” (2012, p58).

The current shift is empowering teachers to create a classroom climate that supports students searching for QUESTIONS, not answers. The search for questions sparks creativity and a deepened level of inquiry. At the heart of this movement is promoting creativity. And, we all know that the arts go hand in hand with creativity!

The Arts = Play

As Albert Einstein said, “Creativity is intelligence having fun!” Many people equate the arts with play. This gets some people all up in arms! But, I tend to focus on the positive. Let’s face it, the arts are typically an elective course and if the students aren’t engaged then they won’t enjoy themselves. The arts are the catalyst for creativity in our schools, but creativity should not just be limited to the arts classrooms.

Sir Ken Robinson states in his book, Out of Our Minds, “creativity is possible in any activity that engages our intelligence” (2017, p3). We all know that when students are involved in creative activities, their brains (intelligence) are engaged, and they are most likely having fun in the process!

What happens to creativity?

We all know that young children love to be creative – when they are playing with blocks, building with Legos or Magnatiles, coloring, drawing, dancing around the room, acting and role-playing with their friends, singing, or playing instruments – the list of examples is endless. But, as time passes, that innate ability and comfort with our creative self becomes less and less frequent.

Shauna Niequist writes in her book, Present Over Perfect, “creativity, of course, is so easy and natural for children, and most adults struggle to recover that wild courage to make and imagine and play” (2016, p168). Sunni Brown agrees in her book, The Doodle Revolution, “The capacity to innovate is undoubtedly available to all of us, but creative thinking is like a muscle, and there are people who’ve been exercising that muscle more purposefully and more often than others have” (2013, p184).


Teaching Through or For Creativity

Creativity doesn’t necessarily just happen in a classroom. Creativity must be fostered and encouraged through a supportive environment where risks are encouraged and praised.

Ken Robinson writes, “There is a difference between teaching ‘through’ creativity and teaching ‘for’ creativity. Good teachers know that their role is to engage and inspire their students. This is a creative task in itself. Teaching ‘for’ creativity is about facilitating other people’s creative work. It involves:

  • Asking open-ended questions where there may be multiple solutions
  • Working in groups on collaborative projects
  • Using imagination to explore possibilities
  • Making connections between different ways of seeing
  • Exploring the ambiguities and tensions that may lie between them” (2017, p227-228).

Sir Ken Robinson also states that, “teaching for creativity involves teaching creatively” (2017, p228). In order to facilitate a student-centered, creativity-focused classroom, teachers’ need to:

  • Encourage students to ask questions.
  • Encourage students to believe in their creative abilities.
  • Develop an atmosphere of trust within their classroom.
  • Facilitate self and peer assessment of ideas and creative processes.

Accept Failure as Part of the Learning Process

The era of test-focused classrooms has produced students that are constantly searching for the “right answer.” Shifting the focus to creativity is not only challenging for teachers, but also for students. I have found that it takes a long time to make that shift – it won’t happen overnight. It’s easy to fall into old habits or mindsets, but we as teachers must persevere.

It is our job to encourage our students to step out of their comfort zone and embrace their sometimes younger, more creative selves. Trevor Bryan tweeted (@trevorabryan, 2/4/18) – “If you aren’t letting your students get stuck, struggle, make things that don’t work out, feel lost, confused and unsure, then you are not teaching creativity. Creativity isn’t about certainty, it dances with the unknown.” It is often in those “unknown” moments of creativity when true learning occurs.

As teachers, we must embrace this “unknown” and exemplify it within our classrooms. No one has all the answers and sometimes honesty is the best policy. Don’t be afraid to let your students know that you don’t know everything and even adults experience failure while learning.

But, we must continue to push forward to create and learn. When we fail, we often learn the most. Ryan Holiday promotes this idea in his book, The Obstacle is the Way, when he states, “Failure shows us the way – by showing us what isn’t the way” (2014, p86).

Focus on creative process, not perfection!

By shifting the focus to the process, we discourage searching for the “right answer.” It’s not about whether it’s true or false, or A B C or D; it’s about the journey. As Seth Godin writes, “Approach the world with a confidence that no matter what happens, the journey itself was worth it” (2012, p91) He also writes, the arts are “a commitment to a process and to a direction and to generosity, not to a result” (2012, p95).

As a result of the test-focused era, our students tend to be focused on the product or end result of their work. But, the true learning occurs during the journey we take while getting through a lesson or unit. Ryan Holiday supports this idea by stating, “think progress, not perfection” (2014, p102).

Encouraging Lifelong Creative Learners

At the end of the day, one of our main goals as educators is to create lifelong learners. Encouraging a creative classroom will help move our students toward accomplishing this goal. Creativity promotes a process-centered, lifelong learner mindset. And remember, failure IS an option. As Thomas Edison stated, “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” How many students can you impact by promoting creativity?

Books for Leading the Creative Charge

Here is the beginning of a list of books to help inspire and lead you along your creative journey:

  • Brene Brown, Braving the Wilderness (Random House, 2017)
  • Daniel Pink, Drive (Riverhead Books, 2009)
  • Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is the Way (Portfolio/Penguin, 2014)
  • Seth Godin, The Icarus Deception (Portfolio/Penguin, 2012)
  • Shauna Niequist, Present Over Perfect (Zondervan, 2016)
  • Sir Ken Robinson, Out of Our Minds (Third Edition, Capstone Publishing, 2017)
  • Sunni Brown, The Doodle Revolution (Portfolio/Penguin, 2013)

Web Resources:

Albert Einstein Quote taken from on Sept. 27, 2018.

Thomas Edison Quote taken from on Sept. 27, 2018.

About the Author

Shawna E. Longo is the General Music (Music Technology) teacher at Hopatcong Middle School, Hopatcong, NJ. She also serves as the Arts Integration & STEAM Specialist for TMI Education; Coach for The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM; and Ambassador for MusicFirst. She is a clinician and consultant for music education, arts integration, and STEAM. She is also a recipient of the 2018 NJMEA Master Music Teacher Award and 2016 Governor’s Educator of the Year for Hopatcong Middle School. She can be reached at